Inquests more likely for younger people and deaths from medical care complications

Coroners are more likely to hold inquests for deaths involving younger people or people who died of fatal complications from medical care, according to a study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Australian researchers compared characteristics of deaths investigated through inquests with characteristics of the much larger number of investigations that take place behind closed doors. They looked at data on 20 379 deaths in five Australian states over seven and a half years; 1252 (6.1%) proceeded to inquest, and about half of those inquests were held at the discretion of the coroner.

The researchers found that inquests were much more likely for childhood deaths and much less likely for deaths among the elderly. Deaths arising from complications of often prompted inquests, whereas rarely did.

"There are several reasons why coroners have preferences for inquests in certain cases and not others," said lead author, Mr. Simon Walter from the Melbourne School of . "Some deaths, like those of children, are shocking to the community and there is often an expectation that a public inquiry be held. On the other hand, for other kinds of deaths, such as suicides, coroners may feel that they have little to say about how to prevent similar events in the future."

"Inquests, and the publicity surrounding them, shape and understanding of death," said Dr. David Studdert, coauthor of the study, and leader of the research group at the University of Melbourne. "What this study shows is that the entire picture could be somewhat distorted because of choices made behind the scenes about which types of deaths to highlight."

"As governments around the world look to coroners to function as proactive agents of public health, not merely as passive investigators of death, there is a growing need to demystify coroners' functions," conclude the authors.

More information: Paper online: www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.110865

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Concern over accuracy of suicide rates in England and Wales

Oct 07, 2011

The increasing use of "narrative verdicts" by coroners in England and Wales may be leading to greater underestimation of suicide rates, warn experts in the British Medical Journal today, based on ongoing research part funded ...

Recommended for you

Team approach improves practice efficiency

3 minutes ago

(HealthDay)—The increasing administrative requirements of a medical practice are requiring a team-based approach to care, and physicians must learn to manage the team, according to an article published ...

Influence of migration on health

2 hours ago

Migration has a significant influence on the health sector, including in Austria. The healthcare sector faces challenges due to migrants' different social status, background and gender, as Christine Binder-Fritz ...

Uruguay begins registering marijuana growers

10 hours ago

Just a handful of people had registered by midday Wednesday to be private growers of marijuana in Uruguay, the first country to fully legalize the production, sale and distribution of the drug.

User comments